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The Pursuit of Beauty

I'm M.C.A. Hogarth, author and artist. I write fiction (science fiction, fantasy, romance, etc), nonfiction (mostly about business and parenthood) and draw pictures, mostly of dragons, elves and people in beautiful clothes. I am also currently (as of July 2015) serving as the Vice President of SFWA. Below you can see some of what I'm doing currently, and check up on my status.

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     Latest Sale: Originals are for sale here. My Zazzle store offers prints, mugs, shirts, bags and such! Otherwise you can keep up on my offers on Livejournal through my "sale" tag.
     Archive: If you have a lot of spare time and haven't browsed it yet, I have over 3000 images available on my old website, sketches, paintings and comics.
     Deviantart: I also have a DA account at user mcah.

Cons
     The Nebula Awards Weekend 2016
     Worldcon 2016

Status
Balance Card 5-Card Readings: Not Available
Balance Card Keepsake Paintings: Not Available
Commissions: Not taking them.
Illustration projects: Not taking them.

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Explained here.

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If you find typo or formatting errors in my books, please report them here.

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I did five of the Pelted Kickstarter portraits, so after that I took a break and tried my hand at more portraiture practice.



This is pretty close, too. Of course, Lisinthir shows up half-naked and smirking.

I have more study to do, but doing these lets me figure out where I need the practice, so they're good for me. And I get to experiment with the differences between faces.

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In between working on Pelted portraits, I am still doing exercises in an attempt to master the new tool. I am not getting anywhere with that, but I have noticed that my recent study of better artists has shone some light in my head about faces (particularly, lower faces, around the jaw). So I have been practicing with that, mindfully.

I've already done the Emperor and Slave Queen with Manga Studio, so I went for Jahir:


That is... pretty darned close. The jaw and the mouth are right, and the eyebrows. The eyes are a little something. Too young, maybe. Too forthcoming? Not sure. That's the part that's least him to me, though, which is... pretty good.

It's funny, the Eldritch developed their swan necks (and limbs) when I was a younger artist and was elongating everything Because Style and also Because Not as Skilled. Now the Eldritch have a canon reason for their elongation (gravity), but I cavil at drawing them properly because it looks unreal for a human.

I'll have to try Lisinthir and Hirianthial another day, so I can study their jaw shapes.

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A Rose Point Holiday, Part 37
Full Circle



      Thanks to the magic of Alliance technology, the feast began assembling itself in the great hall by mid-morning even though the festivities weren’t supposed to begin until the afternoon. But stasis fields, warmers, and coolers were among some of the most basic appliances in Alliance kitchens, and since none of her Pelted residents were willing to do without them, they’d been among the first of the conveniences brought out of storage. Reese had wondered if her borrowed Eldritch staff would be familiar with them, given Liolesa’s politics... but she’d forgotten that even something as readily available as a warming platter relied on Pelted power sources that hadn’t been available in Ontine before the recent renovations had commenced. Her chef and the kitchen staff thought kitchen appliances were several times more awe-inspiring than modern lighting or heating or transportation. A horse could take you down a road. But keeping the soufflés from collapsing? That was magic.
      Reese traipsed down the stairs and into the great hall, following her nose. She’d spent most of the morning hunting for Allacazam, who’d rolled himself into a dark closet on the second floor, and after that she’d tidied up her clothes and donned the fillet she’d received on Vigil Night. Bryer’s flower had been tucked into her hair at her ear, using the fillet as an anchor. She thought she looked about right: the dress split over her leggings and boots, which let her move easily, but it was still a dress, and she’d had it made in wine red because it reminded her of Hirianthial’s eyes. That was definitely a thought to keep to herself, because the twins would never let her live it down if they heard about it.
      When she arrived, Kis’eh’t was supervising the procession of dishes and their disposition on the decorated table with Irine’s help. The selection already looked amazing, even though the main courses hadn’t yet arrived. Right now it was all fruit-filled pastries and almond cookies and two towering cakes on stilts with ridiculously ornate frosting patterns that looked like wallpaper but were made out of stamped and molded sugar. There was punch—cold—and cider—hot—along with wine, pots of coffee and kerinne and hot chocolate, and pitchers of water that were remaining artificially cold, though their glass curves were filmed with steam from sitting alongside the warmer drinks. There was pie, inevitably, because Kis’eh’t wouldn’t have allowed a feast to go by without one. And so many breads. Braided breads; glazed breads studded with gem-like candied fruits; sweet rolls and salted pretzel-like breads... the smell was overwhelming, intoxicating, yeast and sugar and the deeper, fruitier aroma of decanting wine.
      “I guess the dessert team finished first?” Reese said, setting Allacazam on one of the tables.
      “They’re used to making dessert in advance because it lends itself better to being prepared in stages,” Kis’eh’t said as Irine gave Reese a hug. “Since they didn’t know we’d be putting everything in stasis fields until the guests arrived, they proceeded as normal... and here we are.”
      “With food for a fleet of people,” Irine said. “Thank goodness we have the Hinichi visiting, or we might not eat it all! You look wonderful, arii.”
      “I do?” Reese looked down, self-conscious, and gathered the fold of her skirt. “You don’t think the whole pants-and-dress thing is too déclassé?”
      “I think it suits you,” said a voice from behind them, and there was Hirianthial, wearing a court coat in a brown as rich as a mink pelt, edged in golden embroidery, and by now she was no longer surprised by the succession of stunning outfits he owned... which is why she was able to look down and notice him wearing shoes. Not boots, but actual shoes. They were inevitably opulent, brown suede with embroidery and buckles, but none of that mattered because she could see the line of his ankles and calves. Her expression when she lifted her face made him press a hand to his mouth to hide the twitch at their corners. She started laughing.
      Kis’eh’t cocked a brow at them both. “Should I ask...”
      “No,” Reese and Irine said in unison. Glancing at the Harat-Shar, Reese said again, more firmly, “No. I was just having a moment.” She held out her hands, expecting and receiving the kiss he’d wanted to bestow on them. “You look perfect, as usual.”
      “Practice,” he offered, eyes dancing. “One learns to make oneself presentable.”
      “I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the coronet,” Reese said, touching her forehead. “But I can see how repetition makes it easier. Once you make the necessary compromises.”
      “Like?” Kis’eh’t wondered.
      “Like no corsets. Ever.” Reese wrinkled her nose. “And also, shoes I can run in.”
      “You learned that lesson well, didn’t you,” Irine said, one ear sagging.
      “I’m definitely done being the helpless heroine. As much as possible anyway,” Reese said. She looked up at her fiancée. “What brings you down so early? I thought you’d be reading, or relaxing. Like you promised your cousin. And me.”
      Hirianthial chuckled and tucked her hand under his arm after another kiss, this time on its palm. “Peace, Theresa! I was resting, I pledge you. But it is in fact my cousin who brought me down before time—she sent a message saying she’s on her way.”
      “Early?” Irine asked.
      “I’d better see how far along we are in the kitchens, then,” Kis’eh’t said, and excused herself to jog away.
      “I suspect it is for Araelis’s sake,” Hirianthial said to Irine, quieter. “As she has no one to host for this year.”
      Reese wondered how he could say that with such equanimity, and guessed that after fifty or sixty years of not being Jisiensire’s host, he felt removed enough from it to not miss it the way Araelis must. Poor Araelis! Reese had thought through the loss of her husband, and understood intellectually the loss of Jisiensire’s tenants... but she hadn’t realized what the New Year’s Feast would be like for a lady without a people until she’d had a people of her own. And she wasn’t even as attached to her people yet as someone like Araelis must have been, having known her tenants for decades.
      “If she’s on her way, she’s probably already here,” Reese said. “We should go meet her.”
      “Let us,” Hirianthial agreed. As they headed for the doors, he said, “Normally we would hear her arrival announced long before she reached the keep; guards at the gates of noble Houses know to announce the Queen. I suspect the Pad is allowing her to catch them unawares.”
      “I bet she likes that,” Reese said. “Particularly since her arrival is probably announced with something loud. Like trumpets.”
      “How well you know us, my lady.” Hirianthial paused and finished, amused. “And how well you know the Queen already.”
      Reese snorted. “It doesn’t take long to notice her sense of humor runs to terrible jokes and questionable pranks. What takes time is believing it.”
      That got her a full laugh, one long enough that she looked up at him and grinned.
      “Yes,” he said, opening the door for her. “Yes, that is exactly it.”
      Passing through under his arm, Reese said, “You know what? Leave the door open. Both of them. The hall’s not going to get cold anymore, not with the climate control working. I think it’s a good symbol.”
      He glanced behind them at the warm, bright hall festooned with roses and boughs, and the feast taking shape on its tables like treasure, glittering with butter and glaze. “In many ways. Yes.”
      That was how they received their queen, then: standing on the steps in front of the open doors to Rose Point castle, which so long had stood empty and barren. Liolesa came without entourage, wearing a gown in midnight blue more in keeping with her usual wardrobe, but no crown, and with her head high and her cheeks and nose pinked by the brisk wind. Behind her was Araelis... but Araelis wasn’t alone, and Reese gasped when she saw the two women accompanying her. It couldn’t possibly be, but...
      “Alet,” said Natalie Felger, author of all of Reese’s favorite romance novels, “I am very glad to see you again.”
      “You know one another?” Araelis said, bemused.
      “We met on Harat-Sharii,” Natalie said, and confused and delighted Reese with a hug. Pulling back, the pardine grinned, whiskers arching. “I see you found your way, ah?”
      “I did... yes. You helped!” Reese exclaimed. And then laughed. “And it looks like you found yours, doesn’t it?”
      “The paintings have come home at last, and so have we,” Natalie agreed. “I’m glad it happened while I’m still young enough to enjoy it.”
      “But old enough,” said her niece, Shelya, “to sit back and let the rest of us do the hard work!” She hugged Reese too with one arm, protecting a platter. “Hello, alet! I hope you don’t mind that we brought a cake?”
      “Is it the lemon one you made me before?” Reese asked, and then laughed. “It is, isn’t it.”
      “Authors,” Shelya said, “like a certain symmetry to things. I think it’s from all the years spent tidying up loose plot ends.”
      “Of course they do,” Reese said. It was incredible to be greeting the two Harat-Shar she’d had dinner with less than a year ago, when that dinner seemed to have happened in some other lifetime. How badly she’d needed Natalie’s empathy! And that sense that even “normal” people could have history with the Eldritch, and come away changed. Reese could still remember the wonder of those cached paintings, so richly pigmented and so intimate in their portrayal of a friendship she’d thought improbable at the time. In retrospect, the questions that night had raised in her had led her, inevitably, to this moment now.
      “Yes,” Natalie said, satisfied. “You really have found your way.”
      “I’m home,” Reese said, simply, and smiled. “And I’m thrilled to offer its hospitality to you. Please, come in!” She looked into the courtyard. “Is it only the two of you...?”
      “For now,” Shelya said. “The rest of us are one week out! But Aunt Natalie and I... we’ve always lived ready to pack up and move the moment we were called.” She grinned at Liolesa. “So we were the first ones here.”
      “Fitting,” Liolesa said, “for Sellelvi’s direct descendants.”
      Araelis, Reese noticed, was looking much more present than she had at the Vigil. “Well, let’s not all stand out here in the cold! Come on.”


***


You all do remember the Harat-Shar from Earthrise, right?? You didn't think I put them in Earthrise just to leave them there?? *shifty eyes*

Also, will never get tired of writing Reese being all shyly pleased that she can now ogle Hirianthial. (Bonus Regency romance role reversal: girl admiring boy's ankles instead of the other way around. Man ankles, y'all. They're the new hot thing.)

This is the last scene of the story! Fortunately it's a long one. :)



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A Rose Point Holiday, Part 36
Speak Their Language



      “Can you talk to them?” Reese wondered. “I mean... can you hear them, the way Talthien can.”
      “I can, yes,” Shoran said. “Though I don’t think I can do it as easily.” He glanced at Talthien. “This matter with the dogs will take a great deal of negotiation, so it is for the best that they can speak to all of us, if necessary.”
      “They just prefer not to,” Talthien said. “Graeme says it’s complicated... something about it being easier to hear one person the more you practice with them? But he doesn’t know if that’s just him and Moire, or if it will be like that for all dogs.” Graeme glanced up at Reese without lifting his head and puffed out a breath through his nose. “Moire also says she’s not anyone’s dog. She’s Graeme’s mate, and she refuses to make an attachment to anyone who would part her from him.”
      “Makes sense to me,” Reese said, and wondered how the inevitable jealousy was going to fall out when the dogs picked their companions. Fortunately, being at the top meant she got to delegate at least some of the initial procedural issues to the people most involved with them, so... “You’ll have to tell me how it goes.”
      “Yes, milady,” Talthien said. “And if the coaches are to be ready within the hour, I should go dress myself and groom my friends. Sir,” to Shoran, “you should tell her your choice!”
      “Oh?” Reese said, interested. “Did you finally decide on a horse, then?”
      Shoran had flushed, but he gave her one of the abbreviated Eldritch nods. “Yes, Mistress. If it will be no trouble to you, I’d like the rabicano filly.” At her blank look, he nodded toward one of the brownish horses, a female that looked like she’d been frosted in white.
      “Wonderful,” Reese said, meaning it. She’d half-expected Shoran to put the choice off indefinitely as a way of politely wiggling out of accepting the gift. “So what will you name her?”
      “Mistress?” Shoran asked, stunned. “You can’t mean me to name her! It should be your choice. You intend to breed her… she will be the foundation of a line of foals. She will need an appropriate name to pass down to them!”
      Reese said, “I don’t know if you want me in charge of naming a stable full of horses. I had enough trouble with mine... and I named her Penny, after a small copper coin from Terra.”
      “It could also be a girl’s name,” Sascha offered. “Short for Penelope.” He grinned at her expression. “Hadn’t thought of that, had you?”
      “No,” Reese said, liking it. Bringing herself back to the task at hand, she said, “It’s New Year’s Day, Shoran-alet, and she’s your horse. Give her a good name to start the year with.”
      “Then… I shall name her Eiluionase,” Shoran said. “If… that sits well with you, my Lady. It means silvered Beauty.”
      “Better not rename Penny Penelope, then,” Sascha said. “The way things are going, you’ll be needing at least one horse that answers to less than three syllables.”
      Reese grinned. “I think it’s great,” she said to Shoran. “Beauty it is.”
      They left a very proud man to finish tending his charges and prepare for the journey back to the village. Strolling alongside her toward the keep, Sascha said, “Those horses are all going to end up with high-minded names. It’s going to be a barn full of Courages and Faiths and Duty-until-Deaths.”
      Reese chuckled. “And one very lowbrow Penny.”
      He grinned. “Sort of obvious, that metaphor.”
      Reese snorted. “Don’t work too hard, fuzzy. Remember, I apparently hired you for your looks.”
      Sascha nodded sagely. “I wouldn’t want to sprain anything.”
      She smacked his arm lightly, swayed away from his threatened swat, and wondered when she started laughing.

~*~


      The coaches were everything Terry had threatened, frothing with ornament and bedizened with her new coat of arms and covered in scrolling filigree metal, a watered gold that was just right in the wan winter sunlight. Nor was that the only thing the Tams had made with their genie time, because the horses pulling the wagons wore shining harnesses hung with sleigh bells, fancy blankets... and hats. With feathers. It was the most outrageous equipage Reese had ever seen, and that counted the illustrations from her favorite fantasy novels; confronted with it, the only emotion she was capable of was a stunned awe.
      “Ta-da!” Terry said, opening his arms as if summoning with them.
      The pressure in her chest was almost certainly the harbinger of a paroxysm of laughter that would end the boning in her bodice. Reese managed to get the words out level. Mostly. “I... I have no idea what to say, alet. It’s... astonishing.”
      “Are you sure anyone’s going to want to get into those things?” Sascha said from behind her, skeptical.
      The foxine folded his arms, smug. “See for yourself.”
      Tiptoeing closer, Reese peered into the first wagon and found Shoran and Talthien already in it, exclaiming over the cushioned seats and admiring the clever mechanism that allowed the passengers to winch a cover over their heads during inclement weather.
      “You asked us to speak their language,” Terry said. “We heard and obeyed!”
      Reese pressed a hand to her mouth until she was sure she could maintain her composure. “And did Taylor blow a relay?”
      Terry chuckled. “I think the request was so ludicrous she just accepted it. It happens that way sometimes. Little things you fight. The big things have momentum.”
      “Tell me about it,” Reese murmured.
     “Are these things really going to get them here any faster?” Sascha asked, arms folded.
      “Not by much,” Terry admitted. “Walking horses go at a slightly quicker pace than walking people, but your guess is as good as mine about whether they’ll make better time while pulling. The wagons are made of modern materials, so they’re much lighter than real wood would be—that’s in our favor. But the roads here aren’t fantastic.” He shrugged, swished his tail once in a way that reminded Reese of Graeme and Moire. “My best guess is that we’ll be back in the afternoon.”
      “But with more people than could have made the walk, hopefully,” Reese said.
      Terry nodded. “Hopefully. But we should get going if we want to keep to our timetable. Sascha? You coming? That second wagon won’t drive itself. At least, not with horses attached.”
      “Coming,” Sascha said. “We’ll be back, Boss.”
      Watching the two wagons roll out of the courtyard, Reese wondered just how many Eldritch would decide to return in them. Would Talthien’s mother convince the others to stay? She hoped not. But she’d done everything she could not to push them too far, and that was all she could do. And if they didn’t come, at least she could celebrate with the Pelted, and with her Eldritch family.
      Strange to say it that way. Her Eldritch family. But when she married Hirianthial, that would make Liolesa her cousin-in-law. And Val and the priests, and Felith... they might as well be family after all they’d been through together.
      Reese headed back up the steps to the front door. It was going to be a good feast no matter what. She found herself hoping, though, that it would be a good feast with her tenants, no matter how much more comfortable it would have been without them.

***


Told you. Total princess carriages. >.>

One more set piece after this and we're done! Next week we'll wrap up this story. Meanwhile, here's a picture of a rabicano Andalusian. Conlangers may have noticed that her name is in the silver mode (indicated by the prefix, "ei"). You may remember some symmetry there: Hirianthial named his horse in the shadow mode ("ie"curiel). This is a private joke between him and Liolesa, since he had to send his horse after hers on a lot of crazy journeys, and he commented more than once that his steeds put up with a great deal in her service. Iecuriel, shadowed "steadfast," can be interpreted as "steadfast, though God and Lady alone know why."

It's also a pun on the horse's coat color (black). Because if you're Eldritch, it won't do but for everything to have at least two meanings.

Anyway. We continue! If you have any last minute hopes/questions/wishes for this story, now's the time to mention them, because I'm writing the final scenes in the next few days!




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I finally got around to seeing the BBC Sherlock Christmas special last night. I found it clever in the way the writers seem to default to, which is a sort of meta-storytelling clever, but it's the first time that the use of that device surprised me. I could appreciate the playfulness of it, maybe because it was obvious they were having fun themselves. When I heard the premise for the episode I wasn't sure how they were going to handle the whole "let's do a historical piece" thing, but they did a fantastic job of selling it. So that was good. Many of the tiresome things remain tiresome—I am reminded of the tweet that went around about how the internet era has evolved heroes to reflect its condescending and callous subculture—but I sense them struggling to humanize Sherlock, and while I don't know that I find the results convincing, I appreciate how hard the actor works to bring it off. There are many missed opportunities (Watson remains one of them; I keep watching the show in the hopes they'll do something with him)... but on the whole I found it entertaining. And as usual, high definition TV is mesmerizing. I could fall into the striations of people's irises or the clarity of their shadows' edges. It's like seeing the Earth from space without the fuzz of atmosphere, except the lens is focused on people.

I love looking at people. They're endlessly wonderful to behold.

But. Anyway! It was a diverting hour and a half.

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A Rose Point Holiday, Part 35
Roses



      Having put away a cup of coffee and several savory crepes—freshly made to replace the ones Urise had devoured so stealthily—Reese went searching for her resident village Eldritch. That trip that took her to the great hall… where she abruptly halted. The evergreens hung under Irine’s supervision at the start of the holiday season had been refreshed at intervals as they grew dry; she’d become accustomed to seeing the dark, resinous green of them in her peripheral vision while jogging past, smelling the pine sap pungency of them. Those garlands still bedecked the hall, but they’d been woven through with strands of winter roses tied with silver ribbon. The perfume added a floral topnote to the bouquet of evergreen and the scent of burning wood in the fireplace, and it was perfect.
      Bryer was standing on a ladder, hanging a wreath over the mantel: evergreen with silver accents and a single red velvet ribbon, the only red in the whole hall. Seeing her, he grunted and hopped down.
      “Oh, Bryer!” Reese said. “It’s beautiful!”
      “Looks good,” he agreed, feathered arms flexing. “You stay a moment.”
      “All right?”
      He was already jogging toward an Eldritch wheelbarrow, the carved panels on it absurdly ornate to be adorning something so pedestrian and antiquated. Sheaves of roses were still mounded in it despite the hall itself looking complete. Had he cut enough for the entire castle? Rose Point would live up to its name then, with the fragrance wafting down every corridor, and wasn’t that a wonderful thought? But the Phoenix was returning, and had in his hand a single petite bloom. It was one of the most perfect roses Reese had ever seen, except for a single creased petal, and the stem was cut almost entirely off.
      “First cut of new year,” Bryer said, handing it to her. “For you to wear.”
      Touching it gently, Reese said, “Let me guess. It’s a reminder that every year the roses die, and every year they grow again.”
      “That too.” He gaped his beak at her. “Good application of lesson. Also private message. To the keeper of the aerie goes the gift. It says she is worthy.”
      The honor of it lanced her in the heart… just before she laughed. “And the flower dies, so that’s a reminder too, right? ‘Keep being worthy.’” She turned it, smiled. “Wait, there’s more too. The little imperfection just makes the rest of it look better, right? Or maybe ‘it’s all right not to be perfect.’” Which one was it? “It’s all of it. You put a lot of work into this one present...!”
      He folded her hand over it. “All good things are made with effort. Families. Gardens. Worlds. Lives.”
      “I understand.” She dipped her nose to the rose and inhaled, felt the fragrance sweep into her and open her throat and heart. “Thank you, arii. I think I know just what to do with it. But first... have you seen Talthien or Shoran?”
      “Stables,” Bryer said, talons clicking on the flagstones as he returned to the ladder.
      Naturally. “Thanks,” she said, and put the flower on the mantel where she could find it again before she headed out that way.
      The two Eldritch were indeed in the stables, along with Terry, Sascha, and the two Guardkin. Her arrival caused a cessation in the conversation as every gaze swiveled to her. Reese put a hand on her hip and said, “All right. What new problem do we have to solve.”
      “I told you she’d know,” Sascha said. “Boss, those people from the village have to walk here. All three hours of the trip. Four. Six. Whatever. I suggested we go get them...”
      “And I said it would be rude.” Terry was leaning back against one of the stalls. Naturally the horses weren’t nibbling his hair. It was only her head that they liked to slobber on.
      “Is he right?” Reese asked the Eldritch.
      Talthien muttered, “It is not rude. It’s stupid to think it’s rude. The catechism says to find offense where none is offered is violence against the God and Lady. But it doesn’t matter because they’ll never say yes.”
      Reese expected Shoran to agree with Terry, so she was surprised when the other man didn’t say anything until Moire leaned over and prodded his leg with her nose. He reached down to pet her ruff, smiling. “All right! No more cold nose, please. I’ll stop brooding.” Straightening, he said, “Mistress, I think... you should send yon tiger. It’s a long walk in winter. Not everyone should be making it. Not everyone would, in fact, under ordinary circumstances. They’d stay home. If you sent something to bring everyone back… well, that would be the first time the entire village could attend a New Year’s feast like this.”
      “But?” Reese said, hearing it in his delivery.
      “But I fear Talthien is correct,” Shoran said. “It may offend. Your conveyances are convenient and empowering, milady, but... they are very modern.”
      “Is that the only problem?” Reese said. She eyed Terry and Sascha. “This is such an easy fix I don’t know why you haven’t figured it out yet. What am I employing you people for, anyway?”
      “Our sterling good looks?” Sascha offered.
      “Or our heartwarming banter,” Terry said, grinning at the tigraine. “But obviously not our brains. Go on, alet. What do you want us to do?”
      “Build a carriage,” Reese said.
      “A... what?” Terry said carefully.
      Sascha was laughing though. “Oh, that’s perfect! You want us to make some kind of fancy princess carriage big enough for a village?”
      “I don’t think they come that big,” Reese said. “So maybe you’d better make a few smaller ones. Don’t they haul hay in wagons? Make fancy wagons, attach the horses to them, and go get the Eldritch. It can’t take you long to whip something like that together, right?”
      “We’re the Tams!” Terry said. “We can do anything. Except Taylor is going to blow a relay when you tell her you want to waste time on this.”
      “It’s not wasting time if we use it for every holiday,” Reese said. “And for... I don’t know. Hay rides? Harvest festivals? Do they do that in real life?”
      “Hay rides and harvest festivals,” Sascha mused, tapping his finger on his mouth. “That sounds—”
      “Don’t say it,” Reese warned.
      “Promising! I was going to say promising!”
      “Sure you were,” Reese said dryly. “Anyway. Can you do it, Terry? I’ll authorize whatever disruption of schedule is necessary to use the genie for the parts.”
      “We’ll get right on it.” Terry chuckled. “I admit, half of the fun of this job is never knowing what we’re going to do next. Anyone can toss together a typical Alliance town. This assignment? I’m configuring a gem grid one day and trying to figure out how to rusticate a well so it looks like someone built it before there were power tools the next. It’s a real adventure.”
      “Is it really that different from what you’re used to?” Sascha asked, curious. “After living with your own Eldritch lord all your life?”
      “I say that especially after living with Lord Lesandurel all my life—and all his too. He came to the Alliance and adapted to us, you know. This... this is new.” Terry grinned, ears perked. “I’m off, then. Give us an hour, we’ll have what you need, alet.”
      “Great. And put my coat of arms on it or something! If I end up with the fancy coaches, I might as well get it right.”
      Terry saluted her and jogged out of the stable, leaving her to deal with the stares of the two Eldritch. “I assume that coaches are fine?” she said, suddenly worried. “I can call him back—”
      “No!” Shoran exclaimed. “No, it’s... just... that ladies usually do not send coaches for their people. We have always walked. It’s expected.”
      “But it should be all right, right?” Sascha asked. “Sending carriages is less ‘this is horrible and foreign’ and more ‘this is strange and eccentric’?”
      “Just so.”
      “I can handle being eccentric,” Reese said. “You two will go down with the wagons? Coaches? Whatever.”
      “Of course,” Shoran said. “The dogs have not yet seen the village. They will want to. Yes?” He looked at them, received two nods. Moire had been sitting next to him, following the conversation like any other participant might have; Graeme had as much of himself in Talthien’s lap as could fit, with the youth leaning against one of the hay bales.
      “Can you talk to them?” Reese wondered. “I mean... can you hear them, the way Talthien can.”

***


Writing the scene with Bryer and the roses has made me completely re-evaluate how Reese delivers the last line of Laisrathera. YOU GO SUBCONSCIOUS.

Also, fancy princess carriages! And no, we're not done with this serial yet! Almost!



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For those of you reading (or who have just finished reading) Amulet Rampant, the discussion on the launch post is going well and even includes doodles! There are four of them now. There might be more later. >.>

Do hop on over if you like talking about books with other readers. I know there are some folks there who are waiting impatiently to squee or groan or argh with other people. While I doodle silly commentary on your distress, or excitement. I am so evil. >.>

Also! I've put together my Amulet Rampant playlist on youtube:



Hopefully that works. Anyway, this was the music I was listening to while writing. Some of it is clubby music (because dance music). Some of it is wry commentary. ("I Like It Rough" always got me askance looks.) And some of it is because the feel of the music matched what I was trying to accomplish (like "All The Things She Said" and "Enjoy the Ride").

A lot of the Pelted playlists are heavy on 80s music. Part of that is because I like 80s music. (No apologies.) But another part of it was that a lot of 80s music had this... kind of Star Trekky 'For the Future!' feel. Synthesizers had become mainstream. Everyone was wearing sparkly "jelly" accessories. Everything seemed to glow. The Pelted universe, while a little less... um... plastic... will always have that 'the future's so bright I gotta wear shades' sort of feel.

So, yeah. I listened almost exclusively to classical music to write the romance, and for Blood Ladders a lot of (oddly enough) Asian fusion/anime soundtrack stuff. But Pelted? *dons sunglasses* Awwwww yeah. (Chicka chicka.)

*grin* Enjoy it.

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Tags: psychology, high stakes politics, ensemble cast, kink, dragons, furries, elves (space)
Rating: R for violence, explicit sexual situations


     In an effort to stop a war and hold the Thorn Throne, the Chatcaavan Emperor has embarked on the bloody subjugation of the rebels who are tearing the Empire apart to serve their ambitions. He has left the palace in the hands of the newly christened Queen Ransomed and encircled her with his allies.
     One of them is a traitor.
     All the lessons the Queen has learned—in personhood, in agency, in courage—may not be enough to equip her for the challenges before her. Nor is she the only one facing a revelation that could shatter worlds: Lisinthir Nase Galare, newly returned to the Alliance, has invited his cousin to their promised assignation, and discovered by accident a weapon that could turn the tide.
     Book Three of the Princes’ Game begins with a tryst and ends with a clarion call to battle. How many will answer the call? And will they see the end of the conflict unchanged?
     The war is waiting.


When I wrote the short novella "Marks" I never dreamed it would become the full-length novel Even the Wingless. When I finished Wingless, I never dreamed I'd ever go back to that story. Now I'm three books into this series and wondering how I could ever possibly have been so naive. So here it is, ariisen: the continuing story of the eruption of the Chatcaavan war, as told through the lens of the catalysts and major players. We get to meet lots of new Chatcaava in this one (and revisit old friends); same among the Fleet folks. Lisinthir and Jahir aren't the only Eldritch who end up in this book, either... and even Vasiht'h's bringing some new people into the story. This series is spiraling out into a true ensemble cast, and I hope you'll enjoy finding out what happens to them as much as I enjoyed writing about them.

Which brings us to something new! Most all of these launch posts are just that: launch posts, and the only comments on them are "I got it, yay!" (which I like to read, of course!). But I recently spotted another author using her launch posts as a place for readers to discuss the book, so I thought I'd try that! If you look in the comments, you'll see I've started a comment for each chapter. You can respond there if you want to talk with other readers about that particular chapter. Spoilers can be spoiler-tagged if people want to do so, but I think assuming that everything in the comments might be a spoiler is a good idea.

So go ahead and use the comments to chat with other readers, if you like the book club atmosphere! And for those of you who prefer to bunker in with your books until it's over... have a good time, and as always, thank you for buying (and please tell a friend, leave a review, all that other stuff you hear because it really does make a difference!). :)



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As my notes for ongoing worlds like the Peltedverse continue to grow I've been desperately seeking a solution to organizing them. I had hoped the wiki would be it, but I kept running into the wall that most of my notes exist in written form in the hundreds of sketchbooks lying around my house; because I carry those with me everywhere, and because I still often doodle to think, those end up taking the bulk of my thoughts. Scanning and uploading them to the wiki... that's not how wikis are supposed to be used, you know? Wikis are supposed to be mostly text, and the text is supposed to be clickable. This is not going to work if most of my notes are trapped in graphics.

SFWA got me an Evernote account, which I have been using to manage several projects. But I have a personal section there, too, so I thought... well, why not try it?



It turns out I like Evernote. Probably because I can just attach scans to it and then tag the living daylights out of them, tuck them into notebooks, and then find them easily. I'm trying not to think about the work involved in scanning every single thing of importance, but to be honest, it's faster than typing all the things in those scans in. And (poetry lovers and artists will grok this immediately), there's visual information in the way I jotted those notes that communicates something to me in a way that straight text doesn't.

So I've spent a little time this morning going through a few notebooks only for Pelted stuff, figuring that my next few projects are Pelted things so having the stuff to hand would be useful. Doing this has made me realize that many of you would probably love to dive into this stuff. Especially when it includes things like my quickly sketched/scribbled floor plans for places like Ontine and Jahir's apartment on Starbase Veta.



The proof, of course, will be in the using, so I don't know how this will work out in the long run. I figure if it fails utterly I still have all the scans on my hard drive (with the longest filenames ever!). But for now, I am tentatively excited.

Also, I should note here that Amulet Rampant launches in two days!!! I'd be remiss if I didn't mention now would be a great time to review the first two books in the series if you liked them and haven't gotten around to them. Or any of the other Pelted books, like the Dreamhealers work, or the Her Instruments books. *bouncebounce* I admit, I'm teetering over whether to do the romance next or Dreamhealers 3 next, but seeing lots of sales/reviews/chatter/talk on the serial makes me want to keep working in the Pelted setting, so I am admitting now that y'all have a hand on the reins here. Steer me and I'll probably dash madly in the direction you want. >.>

A good weekend, then. I should finish up writing Reese's serial next week! Can you believe how long it's taken! So you can look forward to that as well. (Which reminds me, I should go back to work! *does this*)

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A Rose Point Holiday, Part 34
Home, and Donuts



      The first day of the new year! When had she ever cared enough to celebrate it? Dressing in the diffuse light entering through her northern-facing windows, Reese tried to remember the last time. On Mars, maybe—she’d certainly stopped once she’d gotten the Earthrise. The Alliance maintained a universal calendar, originally designed to organize their military, but it had spread when traders had found it useful to have a common point of reference; after that everyone else had started hanging things on it, like ornaments on a Hinichi Christmas tree. Reese could have celebrated the new year by Alliance Mean Time anywhere in space, or gone by Mars reckoning had she felt nostalgic. But it had always felt to her like... she was running out of time to succeed, and every year that passed was a big fat reminder that the return on her investment hadn’t panned out. She’d had dreams, carefully unexamined except in moments of weakness, of finding someone to love and settling down after a long and lucrative run as an independent merchant, and when it had become clear she was still trapped in the role of rebellious young adult fleeing her family’s expectations, she’d stopped celebrating holidays. On New Year’s, the clock rolled over while she slept, and the only notice she gave it involved scheduling the ship’s annual maintenance checks.
      Maybe that’s why she’d never bothered with birthdays either. Or any of the other celebrations. Between her chronic poverty and the sense that she was a failure, why would she? Reese paused in the act of shrugging on her dress, struck by how much she’d missed because she’d been so closed up in herself.
     But then, if she hadn’t been, maybe she wouldn’t have survived those years of loneliness. Maybe had she been more open, those years would have taken her life.
     Reese tugged the dress down over her chest and smoothed the split skirts down over her leggings, watching the fabric straighten under her dark hands. This was just another way to beat herself up, she thought. One that her crew and her husband-to-be wouldn’t appreciate. She’d made mistakes, sure. Maybe things would have turned out better for them, but things might have turned out worse too. Past-Reese had done the best she could, just like Present-Reese was. And if Future-Reese made better decisions, well... she had a lot of people helping her make them, so judging herself based on the difference was a little unfair.
      She drew in a deep breath and smoothed her shower-damp braids, shaking them to hear the beads click. If she could be kinder to others, she could be kinder to herself. It was a new year, after all. Didn’t people make resolutions on those? Smiling, Reese finished her toilette and left her apartments, and found herself hurrying down the stairs because... she was excited. Her new castle was unfinished but already beautiful and full of decorations and between that and the feast and all her new friends and guests she couldn’t wait to see the day.
      She might also have hurried because once she hit the great hall the smell of something amazing was in the air and she was hungry.
      The kitchens were enormous by her standards, and every time she entered them it struck her again. But one of the features of Eldritch kitchens was a large nook for eating, one that Felith had explained was usually reserved for the staff. It had taken Hirianthial to tell her later that it wasn’t unusual for the noble family to also sneak down to the kitchen to snitch food from indulgent cooks, particularly the younger members of the household, or those considered favorites by the servants... probably because, Reese thought, they didn’t think it beneath themselves to spend time with the chef and their assistants. It had become her habit to come by when she could and sneak a little food, talk with whomever was cooking. The servants Felith had imported from Ontine all seemed indulgent of her habit... and also unsurprised by it, which made Reese wonder if young Liolesa had once kicked her heels in front of her kitchen’s fire while nibbling on almond pastries and listening to servants’ gossip.
      While she knew better than to think she’d be the first person in the kitchen—no one knew how much time cooking took like someone who’d subsisted on protein bars—she did expect to be the first of her friends to make it there. In fact, she was looking forward to being the first one there because she could have the pick of what Chef set out. But it turned out all the priests had not only beaten her there, but they’d made sizable inroads on the platter too. Urise was furled into a swaddle of robes and blankets in a chair in the nook’s corner, beaming; Belinor was putting away what looked an enormous apple fritter, and somehow that surprised her... his behavior was so proper she’d expected him to be a healthy, balanced breakfast type, and here he was eating one of the most fried-looking sweets available and washing it down with—from the smudge on the lip of the cup—hot chocolate.
      But they were not the only ones in the room, and at the sight of him, Reese stepped forward before she remembered he was an Eldritch and not huggable. “Val! I didn’t expect you here. Aren’t you supposed to be ringing a Church bell somewhere in Ontine?”
      Val grinned and... stepped into her, surprising her. He’d never hugged her before. He was narrower than Hirianthial and closer to her height, and hard as a rock under his robes—how little had he eaten living here, she wondered, to get so lean? Because she knew the difference between hard-from-muscle and hard-from-privation, and he was definitely the latter.
      Well, whatever he’d been before, he was theirs now. His starvation days were definitely over. She hugged him tightly, pressing her nose into his shoulder where his clothing was still cool from outside. He smelled like... she inhaled, smiled. Like winter roses, and the fragrant vetiver oil used to polish the wooden bits in Eldritch chapels.
      “Finished staking your claim?” Val asked, affectionate.
      “I have strong feelings about my people,” Reese said, unapologetic. “And you’ve been one of them since we untied you in this courtyard.”
      He chuckled softly. “I’m glad you think so.”
      “He’s very glad you think so,” Belinor said briskly. “Given what’s on his mind.”
      “Now, Belinor,” Urise said. “Let Valthial choose his time.”
      “It’s certainly too late now for that,” Val said, wry. “So I might as well ask you if you’ll step outside with me, Lady?”
      Reese glanced at the plate; her mournful look was apparently too obvious, because Val leaned over and plucked a muffin from it and put it in her hand. “There. I won’t keep you long, either, so that should tide you over.”
      “All right,” she said. Breaking off a piece of the top, she added, “I hope it’s not apple.”
      “Lemon,” Val said just as the burst of zest and flavor woke her palate. “Good, yes?”
      “Perfect. Needs coffee though.” She stepped outside and waited for him to join her. “So. What’s on your mind?”
      “I did ring the bell in Ontine, you know.”
      Reese narrowed her eyes. Val was the most straightforward Eldritch she knew. He dropped enigmatic hints about things—she thought the Eldritch need to do that was genetic—but the only times she’d noticed him being cagey were when he was protecting someone else... and he wouldn’t be asking her into the corridor to discuss something he wasn’t willing to talk about. So the comment couldn’t be a non sequitur. “I know There are a lot of churches between here and Ontine... but you still must have had to rush to get over the Pad and to this chapel on time.”
      “I would have had I used the palace’s,” Val said. “But the Queen has granted me a budget commensurate with her apparent trust in me, and I used some of it to buy a one-person Pad for the Cathedral.”
      “So.... you rang the bell there, dropped everything, stepped over the Pad, and jogged over here to help Belinor?” She lifted her brows. “Val. Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you want.”
      He paused, laughed. “Beating around the bush? Is that idiom really still common in the Alliance?”
      “It is? Why are you sur—” Some of her older historical novels swam to memory. “Oh. It’s a hunting metaphor, isn’t it? A medieval one.”
      He grinned. “Yes. And we still do beat bushes. Since you’ve asked so properly, then... the High Priest traditionally keeps his office in Ontine Cathedral.” His grin dropped from him abruptly. “In the catacombs.”
      Her skin stippled with goosebumps. “The catacombs where they dragged people to torture the talent out of them?”
      “Or execute them on suspicion of having it. I find—” He looked away, the muscle in his jaw visibly tightening. “I find I can’t do it, alet. I’ve had it cleaned. I’ve had all the old furniture replaced. Then I had all the new furniture hauled out so I could clean it myself by hand. And I still... can’t... stand to work there.”
      Reese broke off another piece of the muffin. “So. Work here.” When he looked at her abruptly, she said, “That’s what you’re about to ask, right? We’re building you the chapterhouse for your talent school. It has plenty of space for an office. And you’ve put a Pad in Ontine, so either you were subconsciously trying to escape or you were already planning for something like this. Since you’ve got the means to go back and forth quickly, I think it’ll work out fine. If the Queen is all right with it?”
      “The Queen says I’m the first High Priest she trusts out of her sight, so I’m free to set up wherever I like,” Val said dryly.
      Reese winced. “Blood, that’s....”
      “A high compliment?”
      “I was about to say a low bar to set,” Reese said, rueful.
      Val chuckled. “That too, I’m afraid.” He glanced at her. “You’re all right with it? Truly?”
      She ate the next bit of the muffin while she thought through her impressions. Finally, she asked, “Why did you hug me?”
      “I... because...” His eyes lost their focus, then he smiled whimsically at her. “Hirianthial lost a brother, Lady. I never had one. Sometimes the God and Goddess provide what you need long after you’ve stopped looking.”
      She could relate to that, and let him have the heartbeat of silence the admission deserved. But only a heartbeat, because he wasn’t the kind of man who liked to linger on the intimacies. “So you think of Hirianthial as family. But you call me ‘alet’?” she asked, teasing a little.
      He spread his hands. “I didn’t want to presume. You’re no longer an intruder to my castle.”
      “I’m the owner of it, yes,” Reese said. “But if you’re going to adopt my husband as your brother, you’d better call me arii. Or Reese. No more lady-this or lady-that and I don’t care that the Eldritch use it as some kind of intimacy signaling. I need one Eldritch to treat me normally around here.”
      He laughed, easy and free. “So that’s the cost of my setting up here, is that it?”
      “Yep.” She popped another piece of the muffin in her mouth and chewed, watching him finish laughing. “Is it a deal?”
      “It is. Reese. But in public, during occasions when your authority needs buttressing, I’m afraid I’ll have to default to the formalities. If it’s any consolation, you won’t be alone. I’ll have to suffer people calling me ‘Most High’ and ‘Eldest Favored of the God.’”
      “Ugh!” Reese laughed. “You definitely have it worse.” She reached for his hand and was gratified to receive it. “And thanks. For being his friend.”
      “I think it fitting that the God’s high priest should be fast companions with the first mind-mage since Corel,” Val said lightly, and she knew the casualness with which he said it was hiding how deeply he felt about it.
      “Me too. Now that we’ve settled that, I want to see what Belinor’s left of my breakfast.”
      “Belinor is not the culprit you should be seeking! It is Urise you want.”
      “Urise! But he’s so....”
      “Old? Serene? Immobile?” Val laughed. “Woe betide you, woman. You’ve let his kindly demeanor take you in. Elder Urise put away all those missing savories, and so furtively that the cook’s assistants never saw him do it. They didn’t even offer him a plate. That’s how stealthy the man is.”
      The image was so unlikely she started giggling. And then she added, “Belinor. And donuts. Really?”
      “Belinor will eat anything if you sprinkle sugar on it. And don’t you dare train him out of it. It’s the only thing I can hold against him when he starts telling me I need to reform my ways.”
      “I’ll keep that in mind.” She grinned up at him and added, “It was yours first. It’s yours again, Val. Welcome home.”
      His cheeks pinked, just a little. That was all the acknowledgment she was going to get, but it was also all she needed: that and the relief in his eyes. “I’ll find you some coffee.”
      With Val vanished into the kitchen proper, Reese dropped onto a stool to scavenge some breakfast of her own.
      Belinor said, “All done, my Lady?”
      “All settled,” she agreed. And grinned. “Have another fritter.”


***


You thought it was over? For shame! We haven't gotten to the feast yet!

Also, I am almost entirely sure that's the first time Val's hugged Reese. If I'm wrong, I know Lola will catch it. ❤️

(Finally, some of you will remember me debating the assignment of scents to Lisinthir and Jahir, and that vetiver was one of the two. I ended up giving ambergris to Lisinthir, which left vetiver to Jahir, and now I know why he smells like it.)




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A Rose Point Holiday, Part 33
The Bells



      It had been a wonderful evening. She’d curled up in the rocking chair with Allacazam on her lap, and they’d had the supper Felith had thoughtfully sent up, and then hot cider, mulled with sweet spices and a touch of apple brandy. They’d talked on light topics, as if they didn’t have tasks of earth-shattering importance awaiting them, and then Reese had obliged her husband-to-be with the beginning of a book long enough that they wouldn’t get to the salacious parts too fast; and to get back at him for the request, she’d picked one of the ones about an Eldritch, and made sure it was one of the most ridiculous ones in her catalog. His smothered laugh when the love interest was revealed in the first scene to be a nine-foot tall centauroid Ciracaana woman had become what she was fairly sure was a smothered oath when the Ciracaana had started having ribald thoughts about the fainting Eldritch lordling she’d fixated on because of his sexy body and languid, helpless mannerisms. Reese felt Hirianthial’s pain; when she’d first read this one, she’d spent several traumatic moments imagining how the body mechanics could possibly work and failing. And she wasn’t even a doctor!
      So she’d read, and kept an eye on him to make sure he was enjoying it, and the sight of him leaning his head against the back of the chair, relaxed and smiling… that had been worth the late night and hoarse voice.
      There had also been some kissing. It was, he commented, far less fraught for them than for the poor pair in the novel, the Ciracaana having true muzzles and the sharp teeth to go with them. Reese had allowed that she felt sorry for them, and said that she might feel more sorry for them if he wasn’t distracting her from contemplating their plight. Since he’d taken that as a suggestion she’d been warm and happy and a little effervescent by the time she reached her bed.
      It had been a late night, and even knowing that she’d have to wake up for the dawn she hadn’t regretted it.
      But she didn’t wake at dawn. Her door creaked open while it was still dark, leaving her disoriented and muzzy. Blinking a few times, she peered at the silhouette, and since there was only one person that height likely to be in her bedroom she asked blearily, “I’m not late?”
      Hirianthial came to the bedside. He was holding a robe, she noticed, so she sat up and let him drape it around her.
      “No,” he murmured. “Not at all. But you will not want to miss this, Theresa. Come.”
      Belting the robe around herself, she slipped off the bed and followed.
      Most of Rose Point’s windows and balconies were on the upper floors; knowing the castle’s history, Reese wondered if it had been intended that way for defensibility. The lady’s bedroom suite had a balcony that faced the northern vista, in fact, something Reese had often wondered about since the view now was desolate. Had the province been better settled when Firilith’s first lady had settled here? Or had the former lady of the castle liked a quieter view? Come to think of it, if Val’s stories were true—and she had no reason to believe otherwise—Rose Point had once been the royal palace. What queen had slept here, preferring the emptiness of the horizon for her view?
      Reese didn’t mind. Either it would stay quiet, and that was fine... or the Pelted and Eldritch immigrants to her new province would fill it, and that was good too. But for now, it was a potential, and she wasn’t surprised when Hirianthial led her to a south-facing balcony, because most of the Eldritch of the world were settled to the south of Firilith. He’d chosen the most striking of them, the fourth floor balcony that overhung the great hall’s doors.
     The Tams had checked the integrity of the entirety of Rose Point, but aside from throwing a few temporary flexglass doors on those balconies that were missing them they hadn’t done any renovation. They had plans: furniture, shielding, lighting, heated and cooled tiles and clever bits of technology that controlled the immediate climate. But fancy balconies were very far down on Firilith’s priority list, and Reese briefly regretted it when she stepped through the doors and the cold struck her like a wall. She wished she’d worn shoes over her socks because the flagstones were frigid enough to make her toe bones ache and the balls of her feet burn. Tugging the robe closer around herself, Reese approached the rail and stared into the dark.
      Not so dark, anymore, at least. There were lights all over the courtyard, the artificial ones installed by the Tams, and they glowed in the shrouding darkness like faraway stars. But it was still, she thought, a wild and unsettled world, and like the future it was spread before her, uncertain and new and breathlessly wonderful.
      Hirianthial came alongside her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders—an arm and the fall of his fur-lined cloak. Under it he wasn’t wearing much more than she was, though what passed for pajamas for Eldritch was still a lot of clothes. It was just much looser against his skin than she was used to. That part felt wonderful, and so did his body heat when she leaned into him.
      She didn’t have to ask what they were doing. She was cold, but she was glad she was here.
      The change in the sky was so gradual she missed it at first: a hint of green all along the eastern horizon. She noticed it because she could find the line between the sky and the sea, dark and misty, trailing the last of the stars. Gradually the sky lightened until the first streaks empurpled the sea. How slowly that halo inched over the horizon’s edge! Until at last a golden ray pricked out the frothing pattern of the waves and the lip of the sun shimmered there. Reese held her breath, watching it.
      Hirianthial bent close to her ear and murmured, “Listen.”
      Such a nonsensical request. Listen? To what? She glanced at him; he wasn’t staring east, at the sun... but south, his body tense and waiting. So she looked south, too, perplexed.
      And then, very distant, she thought she heard.. a bell? And another. And another. They were nothing like the sweet, bright calls of the Vigil night, when she’d heard the handbells singing in the courtyard. These were enormous Church bells, sonorous and deep and very distant, and the sound was traveling toward them because—she sucked in a breath with delight—the bells were ringing in succession. Which meant—
      As the sun heaved itself over the horizon, the tide of bellsong rushed through the countryside, sounding from the distant border, then in the village’s church, and finally Rose Point’s chapel sang out the chorus. Amid their joyous song, Hirianthial said, “It begins in Ontine Cathedral. The priests there ring the bells to share the news, that the new year has come.”
      “And then everyone who hears them, their churches do it, and then on and on and on….”
      “All the way to the furthest border.” He drew her into his arms and dipped his head to touch his lips to her brow. “Theresa, my betrothed. Happy New Year.”
      She accepted the sweetness of the kiss that moved from her forehead to her mouth, and the bells filled her ears and her heart and her mind.
      When the sound began to fade, though, she threw her arms around him and gave him a very, very enthusiastic reprise. Kiss Number One had been for sacred vows. Kiss Number Two was a little more personal. He laughed against her mouth and agreed with Kiss Number Three. Number Four was probably a little too personal for a balcony, no matter how far up it was.
      “And now, before we break with our intentions to remain chaste,” he said against her jaw where he was doing far too good a job of convincing her that they should give up on that intention completely, “we should go prepare for the day. Our guests will be arriving soon.”
      “You invited Liolesa?” Reese guessed.
      “And Araelis, and whomever they wished to bring,” Hirianthial agreed. He took her clasped hands. “Bright the new day. Shall we go to it?”
      “I can’t wait.”


***


I live near a church that rings out the hours, and it is one of the great comforts of my daily life.

Today in lieu of sustained commentary, here's a link to a song! I always listen to this one at the end of the year and I love it. I was thinking of it while writing this scene. :)




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A Rose Point Holiday, Part 32
Dancing and Romancing



      What Felith set about to teaching the Pelted visitors later was nothing like the ballroom dancing Reese had been expecting. She supposed seeing how everyone had dressed at Ontine had led her to expect that couples would sail together across the enormous ballrooms typical of Eldritch architecture, and it would be beautiful and terrifying because that was exactly the sort of dancing she’d never allowed herself to imagine she’d do and couldn’t imagine she’d do well.
      But no, Eldritch didn’t dance like that, save on very rare occasions. What they did instead was a group dance based on patterns of moves executed in lines, squares, or circles. No touching, of course, save with wands and daggers… there was a lot of pointing and waving, though, which Reese thought looked more ridiculous than touching, but she could think so, couldn’t she? She wouldn’t want to accidentally hear what Surela’s sympathizers thought of her while trying to concentrate on what her feet were supposed to do next, certainly.
      The dancing came in two styles. In the court style, the order of the patterns was dictated by the music, and the result was far more formal and rigid; everyone knew which form came next, so there were no surprises and a lot of time to calcify one’s mannerisms. The country style appropriate to their New Year’s festivities, though, was far more spontaneous, and involved someone standing at the head of the hall on a pedestal calling out the pattern. It could and did get chaotic, and when Irine suggested that it sounded far more fun than the fancier style Felith only smiled one of those unreadable Eldritch smiles and said it depended on the dancers. And with that set them to standing in rows and started the lesson.
      There were, apparently, a lot of patterns. Fortunately, the Tams knew most of them. Between their aid and Felith’s, the rest of them soon had the basics down. Reese was forced to admit that even she could figure out how to skip after someone else, or twirl and clap her hands, though she tried very hard not to think about what she looked like while doing it. It was probably ridiculous. It was also just a little bit fun. Especially since she was practicing with non-Eldritch, and could laugh off all the inevitable mistakes that involved bumping into people. Once she’d been on the floor for a while, Felith waved her aside and put her to work calling the patterns, “As this is one of your duties as Lady during the feast.” Naturally that wasn’t as easy as it seemed either, because some forms led naturally into each other and others… didn’t.
      That inspired a lot of laughter too, and one or two shaken fists as the dancers recovered from her more ridiculous suggestions. Reese couldn’t remember the last time she’d grinned so much or for so long. Maybe the dancing bit wasn’t that bad after all.
      “You have the sense of it now, I think,” Felith said. “Which is well because I believe you are about to retire for the evening.”
      “You are? I am? Oh—” She blushed at the sight of the tall, familiar figure at the door. “Right.”
      “My lord,” Felith said as Hirianthial joined them. “We are pleased to see you. I shall leave you to the lady, and send supper up in an hour if it pleases.”
      “It does. Thank you, Felith.”
      Her chatelaine absented herself with commendable alacrity, leaving her standing alongside her fiancé in a pool of quiet at the head of the hall. Reese never tired of looking at him, especially now that she’d noticed that with every passing day he seemed a little more whole. It would take time for him to bounce back from the shocks and griefs he’d suffered, and she knew one of the reasons Liolesa was keeping him so busy was so he could use the work to center himself again. She also knew, without having to be told for a change, that she held some responsibility for that return to health. It felt good to be one of the reasons he felt better about himself after spending far too long being one of the reasons he didn’t.
      Also, he really was handsome.
      “You are staring, my Courage,” he murmured as he took her hand.
      “You’re worth staring at?” she offered, and it was true. She liked the wind-chapped vitality of him, fresh from the cold. His skin showed the flush better than hers.
      “And you are a sight to gladden the heart,” he said, and tucked her hand into his arm. “I see Felith has things well in hand here.”
      “She does! Which means you and I can slip out if you’d like. Unless you’d like to dance?”
      He watched the revelry, mouth quirking upward at the corner. “I see the festivities have started early. But no, I have had a long enough day, I think. I would not mind retiring.” He canted his head. “Shall I ask what number we are on now?”
      “What? Oh. Forty… three? Maybe?”
      “You’ve lost count!”
      His eyes were sparkling. She tried to scowl at him and failed. Even her mock-scowl lacked authority. Which was fine. “Let’s just round down and you can make up the shortfall.”
      He laughed. “Done. Shall we?”
      “Yes,” she said firmly. As they left, she added, “You’re here for the remainder of the holiday, then?”
      “I am, yes.” The sounds of merriment receded as they passed into the halls. Taylor and the Tams had started work on the center of the castle, so this section was dimly lit by discreet Alliance technology: a warm glow that brightened as they passed and faded behind them. “I have told my cousin that I am done for a few days, and that if she forced me to use my need to finalize details for the hospital as an excuse to stay away, I would.”
      Reese winced. “You’re not going to. Work on it. Are you?”
      He glanced down at her and chuckled. “No, Theresa. Don’t fear that I need an excuse for myself as well as Liolesa to want to be here. I am here because here is where I belong on the first day of the new year. You are the lady of Rose Point. And I am—will be—your consort. When you fete your tenants, I should be beside you. And I do so desire it. I promise.”
      “You didn’t have to read my mind to hear that one, I bet,” Reese said, rueful.
      “A relationship of sufficient length can lead to exchanges that might as well be telepathy,” he said. “And while we haven’t known one another long by how the days are counted, we have lived several lifetimes in the days we have.” He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it again, and this time he feathered his warm breath over her knuckles until she shivered. “Time is relative.”
      “Yes,” she said, sobered.
      “So then. What shall we tonight, on the last day of the old year?”
      Reese thought about that. About Eldritch sayings and the rightness of things, about new relationships, and old relationships, and talking and kissing. And found herself saying, “Could we just… sit around the fire and talk?”
      “Or read to one another?” he suggested. At her glance, he said, “Do I divine correctly that what you want is… to act as if we have that time?”
      “All the time in the worlds,” Reese said. It felt right to her. “And we will have all the time in the worlds, for the time we have.” She remembered the image he’d painted for her of his first wife when they’d taken that walk beside the sea. “I guess you all really do read to one another for entertainment, don’t you?”
      “We do,” he said. “And I would like it if we did.”
      “Even though….”
      “Even though it is something that reminds me of Laiselin, yes,” Hirianthial stopped outside the room where they’d spent the Vigil; she hadn’t even realized he’d been guiding her to it. “But I think I would like to be the one read to, this time.”
      “Really?” she said, startled.
      “And I believe I know what I want to hear,” he finished, and there was mischief in his eyes… and a compassionate curve to his mouth that she wanted to trust, and also wanted to laugh at because he was about to suggest something outrageous…
      “All right. Hit me.”
      “You read a great deal, my lady. I’d like to hear one of your romances.”
      Her cheeks flamed so hot she thought she could strike a match off one of them. And then she burst out laughing. “Well, why not, right? It’s not like you haven’t done it all before.” She grinned up at him. “You are terrible, you know that?”
      He pushed open the door. “Only a very little bit. After you, my lady.”
      “Would serve you right if I jumped into the good parts first.”
      His brows lifted. “Now there is an interesting revelation. Are the good parts the blushworthy ones? I am delighted that you might think so!”
      She was sure her skin was going to burn off now, but she couldn’t help grinning. “Fine. I won’t deny it. But remember you asked for it when I read it and we still have to stick with the whole ‘celibate until marriage’ part.”
      “Fortunately,” Hirianthial said, “the wedding is not too distant. All the same, my lady… pick a long book.”


***

Writing funny Hirianthial is fun. I see how he and Liolesa got along so well when they were younger. |)



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To celebrate having uploaded Amulet Rampant (YAY DONE!) I let myself doodle something non-work-related for the first time in ages. For less than ten minutes. But hey, I got something out of it...



...and so did you! Your request: Taylor's ear cozies. Daw, Taylor. |)

Anyway. I rest today. Tomorrow I will Work Moar.

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Sssssh, you didn't see it. >.>

Official release date is next Monday the 8th! But you can click the button on Amazon now. (Other retailers are working on the details now; it'll take them about a week just to get their pages set up.)
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